First Drafts are Messy
First drafts are messy little buggers, but they’re not a waste of time. They are notoriously scrappy and muddled and sometimes flooded with an info dump. They’re often wordy, (no pun intended) cluttered with redundancy, grammar issues, typos and worse, but that’s okay. Mistakes, busy words, exposition, and chaos can be dealt with later. There’s no use crying over spilled words and crummy sentences. Think of the first draft as messy morning bedhead. In no time at all you’ll make your hair presentable to the outside world. Your first draft is no different. Overlong sentences, crappy word choices, and telling instead of showing, will all get glammed up with a makeover the next writing go-around. And even the horror of head-hopping, oops, will get swept into the dustpan when you learn to spot that sneaky magilla.
There are no hard and fast rules about where in the story you must begin. Maybe a fab opening line tickles your writing bone out of nowhere. Write it, type it, stir it in a stew. If not, start in the middle or write the ending if that’s what comes first. The biggest lie writers tell themselves is that they don’t need to write it down because they’ll remember it. The point is you’re probably juggling so many minutia issues and trying to keep things in this crazy life straight, chances are, you will forget that awesome idea, so it’s good practice to grab the thought while it’s fresh in your mind and let it tingle down to your fingers.
If you’ve drafted your beginning but you’re struggling with the middle, skip to the end. When a huge idea flits in that absolutely nails your ending, better out than in. Even if it’s drivel, you can iron it out later, but the idea will be tangible once it’s on paper. If you’re super stuck, put in placeholders or a visual reminder that alerts you to come back to that part of the story to insert further details. I usually turn a word or chapter to red to indicate I must return.
If you’re at a loss or feel you can’t get in the groove to begin your story, start with an idea, a scene, or a character you’ve conjured in your mind. Start wherever you’re at with whatever you have. Start now. Start with fear. Start with doubt. Just start and don’t stop until you’ve typed, The End, on the last page of your manuscript.
Sometimes I begin with a chapter title that floated into my brain. That in turn sparks my writing juices and voila, I’ve got the makings of a chapter. It may be disorganized and need some TLC but it’s better than a blank page.
Breathing life into a few characters prior to your first draft is not out of the realm. A name, personality, character quirks, or appearance may drop into a dream or be gleaned from an experience, whether exciting or mundane, well ahead of the actual story. Ride with it, pen it, tap your fingers across that keyboard. Set aside a basket or folder dedicated to characters. Throw a sticky note in the basket when you catch a revelation. Make use of character-building worksheets if that floats your boat.
If you can’t sit down to dedicate writing time, act as your own personal assistant. Grab a notebook and jot down ideas or passages, conversations, or words you love as you go about your day. I have a pad and pen in every room of my house, in my car, and in my alligator purse. Just joking, but there is a pad and pen in my pocketbook. I also use the Notes feature on my phone.
Though some writers swear by outlines as a first step. I say, they can be overrated, so use one or don’t. I usually have a rough outline in my head about where my story is going. Sometimes if there are too many thoughts swirling in my brain, I’ll create a sloppy outline so at least I have something to work off of.
Good luck with your first draft. Don’t sweat the small stuff or feel nervous. Vanquish self-doubt and throw overthinking out the window. I promise, most aspiring authors start out with crap and get better as they progress. You can too, so get that story out of your head and into a document or on paper.